It’s a story that has been told time and time again: don’t drink and drive and always wear your seat belt.
It’s also a story that Tawni Ricketts and her friends all lived through just five months ago.
Ricketts and her friends, Ali, Sam, and Michael Collins, were Illinois State University students. They were all headed back from a party on March 29th, 2014 when a drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into their car going 90 miles per hour.
“I woke up in the grass. Someone had draped their coat over me to help keep me warm. Blue and red lights were flashing everywhere,” said Ricketts. “People were yelling and girls were holding my hand and stroking my hair. I was so confused.”
Ricketts was rushed to the hospital where doctors told her she had sustained massive injuries to hips and spine, leaving her temporarily paralyzed.
It was what happened next, Ricketts said, that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Her friend, Michael Collins, 22, had suffered a massive stroke and was brain-dead. He died from his injuries on April 2nd, 2014.
“I told him that this wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen. That I wished so badly that I could be there with him and that I was going to cross that stage at graduation, if not for myself then for him,” said Ricketts.
Over the next five months, Ricketts would work to regain her strength through physical therapy.
“At 21-years-old I needed assistance in everything I did. Going to the bathroom, showering, getting in and out of my wheelchair, going to bed, making food. Which meant someone needed to be with me at all times, forcing me to finish my senior year of college from the confines of my parents home,” said Ricketts.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Ricketts spoke out on drunk driving and the horrific effects it had on her and her loved ones.
“Because of one selfish and irresponsible person’s decision to drink and drive the last memory I will ever have as a student at Illinois State and of my friend Michael is that [night that] forever changed my life and ended another,” Ricketts said.
Illinois and Iowa state police were at the press conference and said they will be cracking down on drunk drivers and motorists not wearing their seat belts this Labor Day weekend.
“They call it a car accident but it wasn’t an accident because that woman made the decision to get behind the wheel of the car and put other people’s lives at stake,” said Ricketts. “It’s not an accident that happens, it’s a decision that people are making and it’s a really selfish and irresponsible one.”
The drunk driver, 37-year-old Jamie Webb, pleaded guilty on Monday to “aggravated driving under the influence” in the March 29 crash that killed Collins. She faces up to 14 years in prison and is currently out on bond until her October 23 hearing.